Monthly Archives: May 2014

Guest Post: A Desire for Something

I do not believe that I can add much to what my guest poster has said by way of introduction. She is an amazing human being and a fantastic artist. You can find her work and blog here: 

http://www.kristenmohr.com/

I am honored to have her post.

 

Preface

In the interest of full disclosure let me give some background before I begin. My name is Kristen and I am a Gutenberg College alumni, class of 2008. When I first attended Gutenberg I was nineteen going on twenty. The school was like a breath of fresh air, but perhaps in ways different than might be expected.

To this day I have strong positive feelings and memories about much of my time at Gutenberg, the tutors themselves, and the life long friends I made during my four years as as student. As a child, I was homeschooled until the middle of third grade. I then attended two different private Christian schools for a year each, after which I moved to public school in the sixth grade as a result of the fact that a) kids at private school were mean and b) it was quite expensive. So off to public school I went. I walked there every day with my neighbor and socially it was a much better situation that either of the private schools had been.

When I was thirteen my family moved to Oregon where I attended public middle school and high school in Eugene. After high school I moved into the Mckenzie Study Center following a welcoming interview with two of the four house managers at that time (Tim & Corrie) wherein I told them I was “not really a Christian” and to which they replied that was perfectly fine and not a requisite of living at MSC. I did have to attend Tuesday night classes if I lived at the house though, to which I thought, “no problem, I’ve been dealing with church my whole life, I can deal with this.” I just wanted a place where I could live in peace and quiet away from any partying while I attended LCC.

[MSC is a living environment/ housing program associated with Gutenberg College. Gutenberg College was, at that time, housed in the same building as most of its students, but is technically a separate entity from MSC- Editor]

Two of my earliest memories involving the tutors were with Ron and Jack on separate occasions. My experience with Ron involved listening to a lecture he was giving on a Tuesday night. He was talking about the verse (Corinthians 11 I think?) where Paul is talking about women’s hair and head coverings and things of that nature. Verses which seemed to me the kind of thing you would want to avoid if you were trying to make sense of Christianity.

I found it impressive Ron was taking this passage on and attempting a rational explanation of how historically this sort of thing could make sense within the culture, considering people’s biases back then, and how in the present we have developed different ways to express similar sentiments. Because the sentiment itself is actually good. It wasn’t a passage degrading women, it was about respecting your husband, a notion that still makes sense in the modern world (because all women should respect their husbands and all husbands should respect their wives, right?). Anyways, I did not leave feeling pissed off. I left feeling I could appreciate the fact that these people were working to reconcile the bible’s most controversial passages in comprehensible ways.

My other memory involves the first time I met Jack at a social function. I must have had some impression of his teaching because at the outset of our conversation – practically after I told him my name – I added “ and I’m not a Christian.” I guess I wanted to be honest. Anyways, Jack looked at me and said “oh, ok!” in a awkward but quite friendly fashion (how do you not respond awkwardly in that context?). And that was it. I might as well have said, “I have brown hair!”. And it occurred to me that no one here hated me because I didn’t think the same things as them and they didn’t mind having me around. So I stayed.

My first year living at the house convinced me that not only were there people who did not mind my presence, they actually liked having me around. So many people, but a few in particular, were exceptionally welcoming. I am sure they know exactly who they are. These people went to great lengths to make sure I knew I was cared for. They dragged me out of the dark den of a room I hid in and got to know me. We had things in common. We had similar interests. I liked them a lot. And their compassion without pity changed me. And for the first time in many years it seemed maybe Christians could be something other than hypocrites.

I continued to attend LCC for a year while attending Tuesday night classes. Then one day after the presidential election in September (I had begun attending LCC for a second year) I had a very strange experience while I was at school. I should mention at this point politics were not a topic of much discussion at my house as far as I can remember. Probably because there were people who who held strongly opposing opinions living under the same roof and who didn’t want to create a more adversarial environment at home than already existed. My values were largely informed by whatever information I was naturally exposed to through my family, friends, school, and church or that I gathered myself during adolescence and early adulthood. Politics were confusing to me then and they remain confusing to me now.

Unexpectedly in the middle of an afternoon class I was suddenly overwhelmed with regret. I wished I had not voted for Kerry. I simply wished I would not have voted at all, or at least voted for a minority or third party leader who more accurately represented my own values. But I had voted for a mainstream party member because I did not want Bush to win. But he did, so did it even matter that I voted? Thinking of this made me desperately unhappy. And for whatever reason, I felt an enormous amount of fear, like I had done something wrong by voting for someone I had not felt convicted about. In retrospect, I hadn’t. I had done what seemed like the only logical thing to do at the time. But that is water under the bridge.

For whatever reason, all of this conviction and guilt led me to wonder if perhaps there was an objectively right way to live, a world where even if our actions did not make the kind of difference we wanted them to, we would still have made a decision that mattered on another level. And so I began to actively entertain the possibility of the existence of a good God and objective morality once again. Please note that I had never denied the possibility of a divine entity or even fully dismissed all my ideas about the Christian God. I would not have described myself as an atheist. And I certainly never stopped being terrified of being damned to hell. I had stopped actively trying to make sense of the Christian God because I was so exhausted by the hardships of life, frustrated by the hypocrisy of the church, and overwhelmed by the difficulty of making sense of biblical text. But I was ready to take on the challenge anew.

At this point I talked to someone about the possibility of starting at Gutenberg although it was already halfway through the fall term. The reason for this decision was because a) I had actually wanted to attend Gutenberg straight out of highschool but didn’t feel mentally or emotionally stable enough to commit myself to the curriculum in a way I wanted. I now felt stable enough. And b) because Gutenberg was a place where we could discuss everything in the universe while also considering these things in relation to the plausible existence of a good God. I would not have to make an argument at the outset of every discussion about why I was even considering a god of some sort in relation to the topic. I could expect other people to want to investigate things from this same perspective, and yet the jury could still be out! It was great. I could not have been more excited. I wanted to find out what the world looked like if in fact, a good God existed. Plus we read primary sources, my absolutely most favorite way of learning.

So I started late, attending two schools at once. I studied simultaneously at both institutions for around three weeks. It was crazy making and I do not recommend it. I made up almost every single reading and learned the greek alphabet along with some grammatical basics over winter break. And I studied Euclid and Aristotle over the next summer or two. Studying Aristotle by yourself is awesome by the way. And hilarious. Oh winged things, how can I forget you. ❤

I loved it. I loved learning everything. Over the next two years (the first western civ cycle) between work, school, and friendship I did as much background reading as I could sanely manage. I bought extra books whenever I could afford them. In general, I was bat shit crazy about learning the history of western civilization, literature, and philosophy. The world felt like it was beginning to make a bit more sense. The final two years of my degree were more complicated for a variety of reasons which I won’t discuss right now. In many ways they were not as enjoyable as my first two years, but they were probably just as influential.

After college I married  my BFF Mike O’Malley Mohr (ceremony performed by Mr. David Crabtree himself) who attended the University of Oregon obtaining an undergraduate degree in Classics. Some of you might know him or be familiar with his participation in the ongoing discussion of Jack’s present lectures. After this we promptly moved to Ann Arbor where he obtained a J.D. from the University of Michigan while I helped manage a small cafe. We presently live in Portland, Oregon where I am a practicing visual artist and take continuing ed. workshops and classes at PCC. Mike is a practicing attorney. We have cats, smoke hookah, and spent a stupid amount of time talking about life, the universe, and everything. I wondered if these topics might get old at some point, but they don’t. Aren’t we lucky?

Anyways, now that you know a little more about me and where I am coming from, I’ll share some of my thoughts on how I first experienced the school. This is not written to be an attack on Gutenberg or anyone affiliated with it. It is meant to be both expressive and informative. It is also an opinion piece, obviously. Moving along.

 

Part I

While Gutenberg was a place open to discussion about all manner of material, I still felt pressure to conform. I cannot say whether this was an self imposed pressure or something external. It may have simply stemmed from my own desire to be fully accepted as someone who thought the “right” way. I have always been someone who desires acceptance and have gone to great lengths to find it in the past. I am trying not to do that anymore, but to live more honestly.

It’s important to state very clearly that no one was twisting my arm into believing any one thing in particular. Apart from all our studies about the history of the western world, Christianity was presented through reasonable argument as the ultimate Truth (capital T, meaning the type of truth that represents the ultimate nature of the universe). If for whatever reason you did not follow this same line of logic, it stood (and still stands) to reason you might not come to the same conclusion. Which was fine. But if this was the case, that your reasoning did not lead you down the same general path to Christianity as Truth, you might be destined to find yourself wandering through life as a vessel of wrath as opposed to a vessel of mercy. But, we were also told this was not cause to despair. Because it was possible for us to graciously accept that both vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy are equally important to the fulfillment of God’s ultimate plan for the universe. A plan which is morally good in nature in accordance with the necessity that God himself is good.

But if I am honest, I imagine no one wants to be a vessel of wrath, whatever that happens to mean. And if you can graciously come to terms with your reckoning, aren’t you actually a vessel of mercy after all?

All of the tutors at Gutenberg were Christians of some flavor. But we didn’t have to be Christians, or at least the same “kind” of Christian, to go there. We didn’t have to be determinists and there weren’t any rules about going to church on Sunday or referring to the bible as an infallible text. We were there to ask questions about all those things: why should we pray if we believe in Calvinistic determinism? How can the bible be infallible given that it was a cannon put together by far-from-divine humans years and years after the life of Christ? If the second half is radically different from the first and there are all these other parts that some people left out while others kept in, how do we know all the right pieces ended up in the version we have now? Etc. You get the idea. It was a place to ask questions freely about Christianity, how Christianity could be true, what it meant for us if it was true, and how, if we accepted Christianity, should we refer to the bible as a relevant guide when it is the year 2000+ and we have stuff like computers and woman teach in protestant churches?

As a culture (and perhaps especially protestants) we have decided that freedom of choice is important .At Gutenberg, freedom of choice was very important. Just wait until you read Kierkegaard. He, the gadfly of Denmark, nearly tore himself to pieces over the importance and necessity of every individual’s ability to make personal decisions honestly and consciously.

The existential decision to freely choose Christianity has become important to many adults throughout modern Christendom, just as Kierkegaard would have wanted. And while these adults may sincerely desire – even desperately desire – their children to find themselves vessels of mercy as opposed to the other less savory aspect of this binarism, they know that only through a  free choice can one be certain of whether they are in fact a vessel of mercy (saved) or a vessel of wrath (something else). If we don’t honestly know our own hearts, how can we make a truly honest decision to either turn towards or away from God?

But I wonder if when faced with this choice – to orient oneself towards or away from goodness – can we honestly say we want anything other than “goodness”, unless to be divisive? Especially when this is merely a hypothetical and poetic question being presented verbally as opposed to the actual moment in which a decision is made. Is there anyone in this world who honestly believes with complete certainty in a supremely good being and chooses to verbally reject them/it when posed with the question? I don’t know. But I don’t think so.

This situation brings us to a question we all face regularly and which is especially important to making an informed existential commitment defined by action as opposed to words: how does one rightly determine “goodness”? The short answer given by Gutenberg in the current lectures is through reference to the bible. Which leads us to several other big questions at the heart of Gutenberg’s project which were the focal point of discussion while I was in attendance: How can we know the bible is infallible and how can we know what the bible is really saying? This assumes we value authorial intent in our interpretation of a text. I did and I still do. And the short answer, to the best of my recollection, is this: we can know what the bible is saying, and we can say we know it with certainty through a hermeneutic defined by careful individual reading, translation and exegesis in accordance with our faculties of reason, common sense, and experiential knowledge. We can know the bible is true because of all texts, it most accurately represents reality and the moral nuances of reality. To explicate further, Jesus is the best example we have of a moral teacher and as such his word is trustworthy. The biblical story is more resonant than other story in recorded human history in that it accurately identifies the problems of human nature and the solutions to those problems which are found through rightly orienting ourselves towards God.

Most (all?) of the controversy surrounding Gutenberg presently, and to which some alumni are openly responding, stems from both the paper Jack presented at the last Summer Institute and the ongoing weekly lecture he is currently giving entitle Biblical Sexual Ethics. If you have even gotten this far into this post, you probably know what I am talking about.

While I attended GC, Jack’s interpretations of scripture were discussed in Tuesday night classes in the same way that other members of the community presented their own views. Maybe he got more air time, maybe he didn’t. In my opinion, Jack’s views were not given preferential treatment within the school’s curriculum. Or at least this was true when I started at the school. It is fair to say this changed during my attendance when we suddenly became required to take a “biblical capstone” or “biblical philosophy” class taught by Jack instead of what had traditionally been a year of Kant microexegesis. I was very excited to read Kant and this sudden change in an otherwise set curriculum (shorter individual readings changed occasionally, but year long subjects generally didn’t) made me upset. The class focused solely on Jack’s biblical interpretation. Apart from this, Jack’s viewdid come up in his lectures and discussions (as many of the tutor’s views did), but this was also partly due to the prompting of student questions. I think it is also fair to say that Jack spoke and continues to speak authoritatively, and he does not seem afraid to do so.

None of Jack’s views in particular seemed unwarranted since no view was unwarranted in the sense that we were there to discuss varying interpretations of all sorts of writing. Let me stress the learn part here. We were learning. We were fledgling adults. We were taking the opportunity to decide what we thought. I did not want to be pressured into accepting another pre-packaged opinion. Although in retrospect I think I was too terrified of God, the rejection of my family, and the notion of hell, to completely step outside a view of the universe involving Him. But this was the beauty of the idea of Gutenberg, in theory we could discuss all these ideas without judgment from the tutors or our peers and would be allowed to make up our minds about what we thought was true on our own.

In Tuesday night lectures specific scriptural exegesis was often the topic. The method of teaching often involved distributing handouts of the translation. The lecturer would then go through the passage line by line, verse by verse, explaining things in terms of historical context, sharing the various interpretive problems surrounding certain words and phrases, and generally doing their best to create a coherent picture of what a particular passage was saying without leaving anyone in the dark. At the end we all asked questions.

The sermons (well, lectures) at Reformation Fellowship followed a similar format. [Reformation Fellowship is the church associated with Gutenberg College. The tutors from the school collectively pastored the church, taking turns speaking. -editor] Apart from the people who went there, the method of these lectures was one of the things I liked most about MSC, Gutenberg, and Reformation when I first encountered them. It seemed to me that we were being given the clearest possible explanation of specific Biblical passages and discussing how to incorporate the moral principles of those passages into a coherent biblical worldview. We were not discussing theological “concepts” independent of biblical reference. There was too much of that in my life growing up. I did not want to go back there.

We were working inductively, from the bottom up, or from specific observations to broader generalization and theory – exegeting scripture and extracting relevant moral principles. If the the premise is true, the conclusion drawn from it should also be true.And then there is deductive reasoning or working from the top down, working from a broad spectrum of information to a specific conclusion. I imagine this could mean using the framework of a “biblical worldview” to find moral principles which are not explicitly stated within scripture or to argue for the application of previously “outdated” moral principles found in scripture.

Here are some picture to help clarify these two terms:

Inductive Reasoning

 

Deductive Reasoning

 

http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/dedind.php

At this point it needs to be said that both inductive and deductive forms of reasoning have their uses. One is not bad while the other is good. They are simply methods without moral affiliation. I thought using the inductive method with regard to interpretation of the bible made a lot of sense. I was okay with that. I am not inclined to think deductive reasoning is as good a method to determine moral truth via the bible.

Let me return to one of the projects at the heart of Gutenberg, or at least at the heart of some of Jack’s teaching: How can we know the bible is infallible? A deeply important and harrowing question for many Christians or people interested in Christianity who are actively seeking to reconcile their own experiential knowledge, common sense, and reason with the biblical text itself. Using an inductive method, we can say something like this: the teachings of Jesus resonate with my own experience of reality more powerfully than anything else I have encountered by way of authoritative moral teaching. They accurately reflect an idea of goodness that corresponds to the way I perceive goodness according to my experience. Therefore, I think this moral principle taught by Jesus is true and I will apply it to my life as such.

After this some people will further conclude that because we trust Jesus with regard to his moral teaching, we may also trust that he is who he said he was, the Son of God. I believe the argument goes something like this: it is difficult to imagine that someone endowed with as sound moral wisdom as Jesus could also be delusional. So he must be who he says he is. And in turn, we can also regard the same authorities he trusted as authoritative ourselves.

This is all fine and well in that it is a line of reasoning most people can probably follow. But I personally take issue with the validity of this argument. I am not convinced that because Jesus had common-sensical moral wisdom to offer, it means everything he said is true. I don’t think entertaining the possibility that Jesus wasn’t of completely sound mind is an irrational conclusion in any way. Were the teachings of Jesus truly something that only someone who was divinely inspired could have come up with?

Many of the things Jesus taught were not new ideas. Confucius: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”  (Analects, pt.15). This sentiment or something very similar is evident in many ethical traditions.

http://classics.mit.edu/Confucius/analects.3.3.html

http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/ethics_text/chapter_8_kantian_theory/Not_Golden.htm

Ethical traditions are not necessarily religious. They often contain moral sentiments which we now broadly associate with major religions as opposed to governments or other culture shaping forces like art and literature where they have been found since very early times. See the Code of Hammurabi and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi

http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/

Forgiveness is a concept found in Hinduism recorded in Hindu texts (such as the Rg Veda) dating back to 1500-1200 BCE. Here is a quote from the Bhagavad Gita regarding forgiveness and salvation from the 2nd century BCE or even as early as the 5th century BCE, the actual date of authorship has not been determined.

Though a man be soiled with the sins of a lifetime, let him but love me,
rightly resolved, in utter devotion.  I see no sinner, that man is holy.
Holiness soon shall refashion his nature to peace eternal.  O son of
Kunti, of this be certain: the man who loves me shall not perish.

                     Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism) 9.30-31

http://www.unification.net/ws/theme068.htm

Solon is rumored to have instituted debt relief in Ancient Athens. Jainism (which dates back to the 5th century BC) literally has a “Forgiveness Day.”

http://ejainism.com/kshamavani.html

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and Rhetoric exemplify a pre-Jesus discussion of philia, brotherly love or true friendship.

http://www.iep.utm.edu/love/

Of this we might ask, were the early Greek’s influenced by Jewish tradition and culture, the heritage of N.T. teaching? It certainly seems that way, but I don’t think this implies ethics of love were something unfamiliar to humans apart from Jewish tradition. And aside from this, the ethics governing the behavior of the Jews at the time of the O.T. were significantly different than the ethics governing the teachings and behavior of Jesus and his disciples.

Morality is not purely the concern of religion, it is a fundamentally human issue whether or not religion is involved. For instance, the Epic of Gilgamesh not only has parallels to the bible in its narrative structure, contains many examples of early concepts of justice, yet is not regarded as a religious text. We might ask ourselves: do these parallels exist because the bible is True or could they exist because these are ideas and principles which originate uniquely within humans evidenced in religious, literary, and legal texts from early times all over the world of which the bible is one example?

Here are a couple other links I found interesting pertaining to the above topics. I am sure you can do a simple internet search to find a wealth of information on most of the primary sources listed above.

Forgiveness in general: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgiveness

More about Jainism: http://www.herenow4u.net/index.php?id=67777

Getting back to the point: I don’t think it is strange to suggest Jesus was not of sound mind, especially considering he was making such a bold claim as to be “the Son of God”. There are a lot of people in this world who have profoundly good things to say, but who then say other things that are difficult to reconcile with everything else they have said and done. I can think of people in my own family who exemplify this type of paradox.

For me, the conclusion that the bible is infallibly true does not follow from me agreeing that Jesus indeed both taught and exemplified wise examples of ethical behavior. But I don’t want to stop here. Let’s assume that because I think Jesus was right about certain types of claims, he is also right about other types of claims. And after further biblical exegesis I will eventually conclude that the bible (the original version) must be infallibly true if in fact it is the Word of God. Perhaps we conclude this out of rational necessity or conviction, I am not entirely sure. But this is a conclusion not uncommonly drawn.

To me, what this means is that even if sound biblical teaching contradicts whatever internal sense of morality has been fostered within me, I should accept those teachings as both true and morally right.

I have trouble with this. I cannot accept that the method of inductive reasoning which first inspired me to entertain the validity of Jesus’ teaching seriously and find them resonant should then be discarded in favor of a deductive method of reasoning which that argues that we ought also to accept all other parts of the biblical canon even if through inductive thinking we find scripture elsewhere that contradicts our intuitive sense of morality. I cannot accept that once the inductive method has served its initial purpose we are supposed to set it aside in favor of biblical infallibility whether or not it contradicts our internal sense of morality.

 

Part 2

And so now we need to talk about how our internal sense of morality is formed, otherwise known as “conscience.” Fortunately there was actually a discussion of what conscience is in the lecture two weeks ago.

Paraphrased or transcribed directly from the recording during the closing comments/questions (around 1:22:02) of Sexual Ethics in the Bible, session III:

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/8042776/Sexualethics

(Jack) The Christian life is not about not making mistakes in any way, including sexually – we have all been perverse and wrong sexually.

It’s about coming to the self knowledge; where did my mistakes and evil come from? From me. It’s a problem built into the very nature of who I am, God have mercy on me.

We can’t reform society,

We can’t reform ourselves,

We can’t change ourselves,

We can’t purify ourselves,

We can’t transcend our sinfulness,

Any christian teaching that says we can is a diabolical lie.

We are helplessly trapped in the depravity and evil that defines us from the get go, but are we willing to admit it?

Are we willing to call our depravity depravity, our sin sin, our evil evil?

That is the real life and death issue that we all need to come to terms with.

(Question posed by a member of the audience) So figuring out my moral and immoral choices is not necessarily in my conscience?

(Jack) What we call conscience is a cultural artifact.

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of our mind…” (Paul) could be rewritten as “do not be conformed to this world, train your conscience.”

Your conscience is no good, it needs to be trained.

Conscience is the product of cultural forces, it tells us what to get excited about what not to get excited about.

I can feel completely not guilty about things I should feel guilty about. And vice versa.

I grew up thinking the conscience is basically infallible. If it made you feel guilty, it was wrong. If it didn’t, it was right.

My conscience is a product of cultural forces, therefore my conscience needs to be trained by the bible so it will be aligned with true moral judgement and sound moral judgement.

——-

 After hearing something like this I usually have a lot of questions running through my  mind. I have gone ahead and written them down so you can start to understand where I am coming from.

 

My questions prompted by this exchange

I am taking “conscience” to mean an inner sense of right and wrong felt both emotionally and perceived on an intellectual level. You describe it as the product of the influence of popular ethics within any given subgroup of a culture. Is this correct? Is this what you mean by conscience as a cultural artifact?

You also said that to have a properly functioning conscience, it needs to be trained by the bible so it will be aligned with true moral judgement.

I am understanding conscience then as our personal “morality gauge”, an internal indicator of whether we are doing something (or about to do something) right or wrong. And this determination of right and wrong is calibrated by whatever culture we are apart of.

If this is the case, do humans have any way to understand or know true morality apart from reference to biblical text? Do we have any innate sense of true and accurate morality that belongs to us solely by nature of existence, or is true moral sensibility solely a derivative of biblical exposure and study?

Considering morality in this way, could we say it is an epistemological model in the same way rationality is an epistemological model? A theory of knowing, considering morality is not simply something felt as an impulse, but also something thought and considered in relation to decision making? Are the two synonymous? Meaning that the morality one derives from the bible is equal to a form of rationality?

How does one determine that the bible is the one true source of moral knowledge and wisdom if one must make this determination before already having accepted it as the one true source of moral knowledge? Is this not a decision made through some personal, intuitive sense of morality/rationality (or conscience) as it has been enculturated? Or is it innately within us apart from (or pre) biblical exposure?

If we do not determine these decision based on rationality, conscience, or morality apart from biblical reference, what then is our criteria for determining what is true knowledge and a true reflection of goodness before we accept the bible as authoritative?

If reason as a method of thinking is the most fundamental (first) tool we have to determine that the bible is the best tool for determining true wisdom and knowledge, why should we choose to set aside our opposing moral sensibilities and rational thoughts when they are they very tools we first used to recognize the validity of Jesus’ teaching?

If there are discrepancies within the biblical text which cause us to give pause and question the moral certainty of its teaching, should we not be ready to address those concerns, concerns which stem from our pre-established sense of moral rightness and goodness, the one which led us to consider the bible seriously in the first place?

If you say that it is through some intuitive sense or innate wisdom we are aware we must set aside these uncertainties and questions posited by our “conscience”, why would we further choose in any other life circumstance to ignore what seemed to us to be this same innate wisdom that offered an answer contrary to scriptural authority? How is this innate wisdom different than our “conscience”?

By what criteria do we trust our intuition and moral sensibilities in some circumstances, but not in others? Why should we be convinced that Christianity is not also a cultural artifact with no greater influence than any other popular system of ethics?

On the other hand, if the bible is perfectly rational in the sense that we need not put aside our intuition and conflicting moral sensibilities (our reason) to accept it’s ethical and moral consistency, shouldn’t we be able to come to these rational, ethical, and moral conclusions without the aid of the bible? Especially when we consider the main subject of the bible is the imperfection and fallibility of humanity, a subject we have ample experience with and exposure to?

What does being obedient to God have to do with “morality” as a set of principles to live by? Is not obedience to God the only true moral law within an internally consistent biblical worldview?

If the only way we know the bible is the one True source of moral knowledge apart from rationality is because God has written the correct intuition on our heart, are we actually talking about “rationality” in the way I thought we were? What is rationality in relation in Christianity? What is rationality if not a faculty contained within the self? If divine influence is necessary for rationality to function properly, should we still be referring to it as “rationality”?

—–

Relevant addendum from this week: should we be referring to unconscious decisions as “choices?” or is there another force at work in these instances and should we be using a different word?

 

-End Questions-

What I see happening in the present lecture (BSE) is that the inductive method has been set aside in favor of reference to deductive methods and conclusions that have not been “confirmed” or even observed on the level of biblical reference (yet, I think this will change next week). This is my view. It may not be what is happening. Also, I have not taken logic classes so forgive me if I am using this language improperly.

First I want to pose a few questions regarding the Biblical Sexual Ethics series as a whole (not just epistemological ones). First, since the lectures have not defined Biblical Sexual Ethics as a subject, I am going to assume it means something like “a lecture series about any type of sexual behavior with contextual evidence of moral judgement found in the bible.”

The first question is this. Why would one seek to find anything more in the bible regarding the nature of morality or sexual morality beyond that which is clearly stated? And second, why must a biblical worldview be inclusive of a particular biblical sexual ethic when clearly the “sexual ethics” found in the bible regarding sexual attitudes, say, towards women – where there is a lack of the concept of consent, a notion highly valued today, even within many Christian worldviews including those held by the teachers at Gutenberg/MSC I assume – contradict many beliefs held by Christians at present about the nature of right sexual relationships between men and women? Does a modern biblical worldview exclude other moral imperatives found in the bible? Do we have new views surrounding sexual relationships between men and women than those presented in the bible? By what criteria have we made these decisions to include extra-biblical values or exclude scriptural values to form our “biblical worldview”?

Why are we not investigating sexual ethics with regard to the treatment of women as it is found in the bible? Why are we not discussing the concept of consent? Why are we talking about what Biblical Sexual Ethics are not as opposed to what they are? Isn’t this akin to negative theology, a form of theology that was described during my years at GC as unhelpful with regard to actually knowing the true nature of God? (See Via Negative and Cloud of Unknowing. And I believe it was talked about this way because we were interested in discovering how we could know who God was by his visible aspects, not through negation). I do realize the question I pose above regarding consent is also a negative type of question, I simply want to know why we aren’t also talking about since it has an established place in modern Christian culture although it lacks a sound biblical basis.

Why, in our investigation of “sexual ethics” are we using harmful language to describe the behavior of people whose sexual orientation and activity does not fall within the morally good spectrum of our biblical sexual ethic? Is “viscerally repulsive” a modern way of understanding the word “abomination”? As far as I can tell, this phrase boils down to some version of being exceptionally wicked or sinful, an evaluation which is equalized when we acknowledge that the wages of all sin are death, no matter how small or less abominable the sin might be in human terms. But in the lecture the exceptional part is being emphasized.

I myself am not about to argue that all harm is of equal value or that it all deserves the same punishment. And this is part of the reason why I think the language being used to discuss homosexuallity in the BSE lectures should be seriously reconsidered. I don’t think most people truly evaluate all “sin” as equal, despite how it will be judged by God. Individuals face and have faced significant alienation, discrimination, violence, and bullying due to non heterosexual orientation. When marginalized groups of people are discriminated against in this way, I think it is important to be sensitive and empathetic in the way we are discussing them simply because they already face heightened physical and psychological harm due to a part of their own identity they cannot help. And even if such cruel behavior towards individuals with homosexual orientation was condoned, why should we not choose to view this evaluation as a culturally contextual discrepancy we may disregard considering our cultural advancement? What is the moral principle underlying homosexual activity that should compel me to see it as “sinful” in all epochs?

While these lectures might be intellectual and philosophical discussions and have no intention of harming others, it is my perception that the nature of the language used in the lecture is priming the mind of listener’s towards singling others out and devaluing them as morally lesser beings. As adults who have the ability to choose to consent or not, we have no more to fear from people who are homosexually inclined than we have to fear from any other anonymous person with any type of sexual inclination, so why would we compare the moral equivalent of their actions to someone who would eat or rape our child? Even if you are only linguistically comparing the moral valuation of these behaviors, the comparative terms are regarded as heinous criminal activity within American culture, and as such are met with harsh punishment as is endorsed by the American legal system. Is consensual homosexual activity, even if you view it to be viscerally repulsive, a similar morally qualitative type of behavior as child rape according to your “conscience”, whatever it is trained by?

I find the attempt to rationally equate moral valuation of homosexual activity with that of child rape incredibly insensitive at the very least. What is happening here is that we are assigning dispositions that are not inherently harmful with moral valuations. I believe comparing these criminal behaviors (even if only the moral valuation) with acts of homosexuality engenders ideas of moral inequality and criminality among persons who do not deserve these designations. It propagates a view of the world wherein not all are created equal and that some of us are endowed with more viscerally repulsive qualities than others, categorizing their moral “level” alongside that of child rapists. The afterthought is that we each equally deserve to be put to death for our moral transgressions.

The final thing I have to say with regard to the present lectures is that I find it qualitatively different from the lectures I found most memorable and important via MSC and Gutenberg. I think the main reason for this is because from what I can tell, deductive reasoning is playing a significantly larger role than inductive reasoning. So far in this lecture we have not looked directly at scripture to see what it says regarding homosexuality in particular. We have not started out by asking ourselves, “how can I further inform my biblical worldview based on these scriptural references?” Instead this lecture is being presented as, “we have a formed a worthy roadmapthrough careful inductive study. This is our biblical worldview through which we can further deduce what God’s moral stance is on issues of sexuality which the bible does not coherently expound on.” Or maybe the bible does coherently expound on them. Either way, thus far the lecture has not focused on scripture with regard to the specific moral issue in question. Fortunately it sounds like we are going to be hearing about what Paul has to say on the matter next week.

If this is a misrepresentation of what is actually happening, please feel free to recharacterize the situation.

The reason I was initially drawn to the teaching at MSC/Gutenberg after my initial exposure to the community was because I felt it was defined by intellectual integrity with regard to study of the bible among other things. We began with scripture and from there asked ourselves, “does this teaching resonate with my own experience, does it strike me as true and is it consistent with my other perceptions of reality and what I innately understand goodness and morality to be?” I think this is both a good and right criteria to set out when studying anything for moral guidance. But even so, for me the answer to questions regarding the resonance of biblical content is not always yes.

Because of this, I cannot form a coherent biblical worldview. And I can definitely not form a biblical worldview from which I feel comfortable deducing moral principles which may or may not actually be present in the bible. And beyond that, certain moral issues that are contained within scripture have already been deemed out-of-touch even by the MSC/Gutenberg community. So why then, if through our faculty of reason we have been able to assume which of the bible’s teachings are inclusive in a true biblical worldview and which are not, should we set aside our faculty of reason in the judgement of this one issue in particular? And at this point I should say that deeming homosexual activity as immoral is not the only part of the bible I take issue with. Now just happens to be a time when an open discussion about these things has arisen and I am feeling brave enough to participate.

If it is true (and this was an idea discussed at Gutenberg and a premise of many of Jack’s arguments while I was in school) that morality is the most fundamental aspect of our humanity, the thing which defines us most essentially as created beings, why would morality be presented in such an obscure manner as to contradict the methods by which we reason? Especially if reason is one of the key tools by which we come to know the Christian God is the True God. If we are knowers and the world is meant to be known, why would God not present us with a recognizable sense of morality that appealed to our human sensibilities, being both thought and felt? He was willing to send Jesus as a man, so why not this?

This probably doesn’t need to be said, but I will say it anyways. Just because something has taken sway culturally does not mean it is morally wrong. One obvious example is moral opposition to slavery in America. There was huge resistance to change for a variety of reasons, yet this behavior would be viewed as “backwards” thinking by future generations and condemned as immoral by conservatives and liberals alike. If the inverse nature of this argument bothers you, what about the introduction of women’s rights or allowing women to hold positions of power in government and otherwise?

Also, I’m not sure it is fair to generalize “moderns” as one large entity defined by their opposition to the moral teachings and practices of small conservative communities throughout the country. It seems to me the world is full of pockets of people, some larger, some smaller, who have their own highly nuanced views on just about everything. And many of them are not vocal about their opinions or have any interest in imposing their views on others.

 

Some final-ish thoughts

My next question is this, why do we need an authoritative text to live by? Why must we know with certainty what the ultimate nature of reality is to engage in a life well lived (a bias, I know! forgive me, but I do want to live a life well lived even if I can’t tell you why it matters for me to do so.)? I think we would all find it reassuring to have a decided sense of certainty about these things, but I do not think such certainty is necessary to meaningful continued existence. What is so wrong with a universe where there is no known objective moral law laid down for all of mankind (other than the obvious “nothing”, lulz)? Maybe it is a frightening prospect to some, but it isn’t to me, not anymore at least. I should also say I am entirely ready to admit there may be a supreme being in this universe and that their ways are not our ways. I just don’t think that being is represented in the bible.

For me, existing without the plague of constant existential anxiety has become the only way I can move forward with my life. I have given up worrying about whether I was seeking out the truth hard enough. All I know is that knowing is something I will strive for throughout my life because that’s the kind of person I am, for better or for worse. And when I say knowing, I mean to know anything. I don’t think knowledge can lead us away from the truth, so I am done worrying I can know in the wrong direction.

I am not convinced there exists a knowable set of precepts that set out a morally consistent way to live. It seems that all we can do is decide on what we value most highly and base the many difficult choices presented to us in this life on these prioritizations. I have “chosen”, and some might call this cowardly, to regard my own personal well being (living without constant dread and anxiety) above obedience to a doctrine I cannot feel sane regarding as True. For me, this was an incredibly difficult choice I struggled with for many years. You don’t have to believe me, but it was.

To me and almost all people I know, there are things in this world we equate with goodness. And I do value goodness because well, it feels better (you might also read this as “sits better intellectually”) than anything else. You can brush this off as hedonism, but I think emotions are at the crux of everything I’ve already discussed. At the heart of any philosophical or existential discussion about the ultimate nature of reality is the desire to know the truth. And this desire is usually accompanied by additional feelings. Does being right make me feel better than being wrong? Does knowing what is true allow me to sleep at night? Does believing I have been obedient to God allow me to feel good about myself in spite of all my other shortcomings? Does trusting I have done my philosophical homework leave me contented that I am fulfilling my purpose as a human being? Does making an existential commitment to constantly orient myself towards goodness put my “conscience” at ease?

We have feelings and we wrestle with them every day whether or not we acknowledge them. Even leaving moral determination and law up to God (and the scripture) is a “decision” made through a need or desire for something.

And so I will go on inevitably struggling to live my life according to whichever ethic appeals most highly to my own moral sensibility. And so will everyone else. To some this will be mean adopting the belief in an all knowing good God whose will is represented in the biblical text. For others, it will mean doing what they believe is best for their own community with regard to a personal sense of justice and kindness. And for others yet this will mean simply trying to survive and probably harming others in the process, intentionally or unintentionally.

When I first found the MSC Community it sounded to me like everyone believed that if you were seeking the Truth, you would indeed find it. When I realized that Truth meant Christianity quite specifically, it was an exciting prospect. I would have really felt a lot better about myself if the ideas I had been raised with and spent most of my life agonizing over were actually right. But my search has not led me to this conclusion, and I accept this without hating myself for it. For me, the Truth has yet to reveal itself in any way other than everything I have already stated thus far. For me, this, the reality I have described above, the type of thinking I have described above, is truth. And freedom. And in the same way I have chosen to disregard the bible as a source of ultimate authority based on my own intuitions, wherever they may have come from, so others will choose to disregard my way of thinking. This is the way the world is. But if you made this far, thanks for hearing me out.

 

Advertisements

god help me if I ever try to retire- aka required reading for The Ethics of Sex in the Bible Section IV

Alice Dreger is a professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She has written for The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

(blurb from The Pacific Standard)

Her article, here quoted, was published in The Pacific Standard, on May 12, 2014.   It can be found here, if you would like to read it in full.

http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/nature-nurture-third-option-fraternal-birth-order-effect-kickstarting-homosexuality-womb-81256/

Discussions and debates over the origins of homosexuality have tended to focus on two possibilities: You’re either gay because you’ve got a “gay gene,” or you’re gay because of some aspect of your upbringing. (The latter option is usually imagined to involve something nasty, like a pedophilic priest.)

These two options—gene-gay and turned-gay—fit neatly in the (yawn) nature-nurture debate, and that probably explains why almost everyone seems to keep ignoring a third option, one for which there is astoundingly robust data: womb-gay.

The official name of the womb-gay idea—bestowed by Ray Blanchard, the man who articulated the phenomenon—is the fraternal birth order effect. Blanchard is head of clinical sexology services at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

The upshot of the fraternal birth order effect is this: “In men, sexual orientation correlates with an individual’s number of older brothers, each additional older brother increasing the odds of homosexuality by approximately 33%.” And this isn’t because big brothers somehow socially pressure their little brothers into becoming gay. Another sex researcher, Anthony Bogaert of Brock University in Canada, has shown decisively that it isn’t due to family environment; adopted male siblings don’t show the fraternal birth order effect, and the effect holds even when biological male siblings are raised separately. It doesn’t happen in females, and female fetuses don’t add to the effect. The effect happens only among male siblings who have inhabited the same woman’s womb.

So if you are a man, the farther down the reproductive chain you were in terms of male fetuses inhabiting your biological mother’s womb, the greater the chance you are gay. Blanchard estimates this effect accounts for the sexual orientation of somewhere around 15 to 29 percent of gay men.

Why on Earth would this happen? That’s not at all clear, but the researchers who have looked at this phenomenon think it may involve some kind of immunological response a woman’s body exhibits to carrying male fetuses, a response whose effect on male fetuses grows stronger with each successive male-fetus pregnancy. This etiology remains theoretical. But the effect does not. In spite of the long-running “gene-gay versus turned-gay” discussions of homosexuality, we have far better data evidencing womb-gayness than we do gene-gayness or turned-gayness.

The fraternal birth order effect, incidentally, is a great starting point for telling just-so stories of evolution. For instance, isn’t it interesting that traditional religious societies often feature large families and polygamy? So wouldn’t a neat way to explain this be that the fraternal birth order effect co-evolves successfully with polygamy, because in a situation where you have one brother snatching up a bunch of wives, it would be good if a lot of the other brothers didn’t care? (When I asked Blanchard what he thought about this ironic possibility, of traditionally homophobic religious societies producing more gay sons on average, he responded wryly, “This proves that God is supporting my research.”)

 

Visceral Repulsive Update

Due to some family/ personal matters, I am going to have to take a short break from this blog.

I should be back around the 31st of May.  At that time, I intend to go through Mr. Crabtree’s Section IV, in his lecture The Ethics of Sex in the Bible.

Section IV is a very exciting section that everyone is going to want to hear about, as it contains statements such as:

The moral judgment we place on any behavior (including our sexual behavior) must NOT be made on the basis of what seems right to us…

and

Some things are viscerally repulsive to a person for aesthetic, psychological, emotional, and/or physical reasons. Other things are viscerally repulsive to a person for moral reasons.

Let’s hope “seems right” doesn’t include “visceral repulsion”, eh?  If it does, I won’t know what to do any more!

And in the meantime, or at some point, we may or may not have a guest post, also addressing Mr Crabtree’s series. My suspicion is that it will have far more intellectual poise than my reviews, but I can’t claim enough certainty of knowledge to be sure…  😉

 

Mom’s Art and Religion

I was shocked. I didn’t know such things were possible.

After spending years – at least two- treating books, pictures, and papers of every kind with respect, this was some kind of twisted revelation.

My mom finished cutting the photograph. She held up the piece she had cut out.
It was the shape of an oak leaf.

She fixed the photo oak leaf on the end of a tooth pick. Touching it to her paint, like a rubber stamp, she began stamping the shape of an oak leaf onto her painting of a tree.

Less than four years old, I sat and stared, wide eyed, at the thought of the millions and millions of leaves on every tree.

***

One year, when I was home from school for Christmas, mom had found one of her paintings from back in the day. Our house was full of Bob Ross style paintings done by great grandparents, but her paintings had all vanished a long time ago.

It was unframed, leaning against the wall for lack of a permanent home.

It was a painting she had made when she was a teenager- I think- before Dad and before us kids had come along.

It was almost photographic.

A deep well or pit, in an overshadowing forest. It had a worm’s eye view that looked up, almost out of the pit, but took in the sides and floor as well. The floor was deep clear water. Who knows how far down the pit actually went. A little strand of a waterfall was pouring over the edge of the pit, into the depths below. It glistened, shining in sunlight that must be finding its way through the canopy somehow.

Ferns hung over the edge of the pit and clung to niches in its sides.

They glowed in the murk around them, shapes made of green fire. Their veins and fibers visible, the ferns were suspended in time and space, perfect in detail.

Grandpa, her father, had died that year. She had found the painting in some storage room, while helping Granny clean out the old house.

After leaning against the wall for a while, it disappeared.

***
“I’m not your mom. I’m a crow.”

She was saying this in an almost joking tone of voice, but I was starting to get scared. She wouldn’t stop saying it.

“But Mom, if there were a crow living in your chest, controlling you, your heart wouldn’t work. You wouldn’t be alive.”

I was a little over five. Me and my two younger sisters and her were alone, out in the country house. We had moved here because the gun shots you could hear at night in the city scared her. But the empty sky at night, the wind moaning in the boards of the farm house, the endless solitude- they were scary too.

“Well, she’s not here. I locked her in the freezer and took over her body.” She grinned.

Eventually, she admitted that she was our Mom and wasn’t a crow.

Apparently this was her form of stress relief.

***
Nearly grown up, standing at the kitchen table I listened to Mom. She was talking about her younger brother.

“Oh, he says Grandpa abused him. But none of the rest of us remember it that way. He’s making it up.”

***

We were sitting at the kitchen table, with a piece of paper. Mom had sketched out train tracks. They were wide at the bottom of the page, as if you were standing on the tracks. They got closer together and smaller and smaller as they streamed away from you- till they met and disappeared in the center of the page. The horizon spread out like wings, from either side of their meeting.

She was showing me how to create the illusion of distance.

The closer anything was to that point, the smaller you drew it. That made them seem farther away.

She tapped the point with her eraser.

“That’s called the Vanishing Point”

She had spent her entire childhood drawing. She had drawn in sketchbooks, drawn on pieces of butcher paper, drawn while the kids had laid on the floor and watched TV together, drawn with chalk in the basement of her grandparent’s house. There was even a story about the bunk bed getting drawn on at night.

Mom had learned about the Vanishing Point. She knew how to use it.

***

At our Grandpa’s house, there was a stone fireplace. Grandpa had built it himself, despite how poor they had been most of the time. It was topped by a wooden mantlepiece- a single solid piece of wood, rugged, yet polished and smooth.

As a child, I would run my hand over the surface of the wood, marveling at the strange texture.

A lifetime before that, the beam had been laying on the concrete floor, surrounded by piles of unplaced stones and tools. It’s surfaces had all been flat and straight.

Possessed by whatever unmentionable emotion that had possessed him, my mom’s younger brother had gone into the room alone. He had taken a hatchet that was lying nearby. And he had smashed the entire face of the beam.

Then my Grandpa had walked in.

Over the mantlepiece, it’s warbled surface sanded deep enough to hide the hatchet strokes, was a pair of horns. They weren’t deer or elk horns, with multifaceted surfaces and many conclusions.

They were cow horns- almost as long as a man is tall. Their strong beautiful lines curved up into two graceful points.

They could impale you, I thought, if they swung just right.

They were Longhorns. My Grandpa was a Cowboy.

***
We were having Bible study, our morning routine. Sitting on the floor with my sisters, Mom was reading to us from Isaiah- Isaiah 64.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right,

who remember your ways.

But when we continued to sin against them,

you were angry.

How then can we be saved?

All of us have become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

we all shrivel up like a leaf,

and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

“When it says filthy rags,” Mom pointed out to us. She had been reading up on it. “It means menstrual rags. It’s not just that the rags have dirt on them. It’s not just gross. It’s that that blood should have helped you get pregnant, but it didn’t. What should have brought life, was wasted. ”

Women were saved through childbearing. Menstruating was the result of God’s curse on Adam and Eve. Being pregnant erased the curse.

Our little brother was asleep in the other room.

“This is what our good deeds look like to God. Filthy menstrual rags. No matter what good things we do, without Jesus’ death, it’s worthless.”

Maybe I was eight. Maybe I was ten. Maybe I was fourteen. Every  year seemed the same, with the wind rolling past outside.

***

I crawled through the scrub, weapon in hand, scanning the trees through a paintball mask, watching for movement. Some shots went past me and I got up behind a tree, safe in the direction they’d come from. I peered out.

Across the gully, a mask appeared from behind a tree. I shot reflexively, and paint splattered across the goggles.

‘Dead’, the masked person got up and went to the edge of the trees, out of the playing field.

After the game ended we went to meet the dead, outside of the trees, and laugh and talk about the game.

It turned out it wasn’t my uncle who I’d shot. It was my crush’s Dad. The father of six boys, his oldest son was the same age as me. The boy claimed that the guys at the professional paintball course called his dad ‘The Jackal’. There were stars in his eyes when he said it.

The dad was impressed. “Good shot!” he complimented me.

I considered it lucky. I decided I needed to improve.

My mom’s younger brother was one of our few adult relatives who would play paintball with the kids.

I remember sitting, listening to him explain the difference between cover and concealment, watching him sketch out on a sheet of paper the different formations a squad could take to move under fire. There were combat manuals at his house that he refused to say how he acquired. Rumors about weekend training courses that he went to.

He was considered a little obsessed with self defence, but he never came across as a gun nut. He avoided things that would make him look like a hick. Or poor.

In our games, if he was on your team, he would organize the players more knowledgeably than the other dads. You, move- now you, cover him. And so we would move through the woods behind Grandpa’s house.

***

My sister, youngest of the three, was telling the story.

“One time, back when we lived in the city, she told me that she had had other kids before us.”

My sister’s eyes got a little wide as she laughed at the joke.

“She said they didn’t mind her, so she put them on the curb and the garbage man took them away.”

***

None of my grandparent’s kids were named after Grandpa. None of them were named after Granny.

My Grandparents met when they were sixteen. One time (while they were broken up?) Grandpa had met some other girl.  In the endless stories Grandpa would tell me when I was nearly grown up, sometimes he would talk about her. She was a dream girl.

Her family moved away. He never saw her again.

My mom was named after the Dream Girl.

When my mom got to be a teenager, she became quite shapely and beautiful. She dated a lot of boys and would go on long walks with them, out in the woods.

One of them, an older boy, was very attached to her. He went into the Navy when she was  still just sixteen.  She broke up with him when he left.  He ended up becoming an alcoholic (and killing himself?). To his dying day he blamed her for his ruined life.

Granny has told me that she didn’t like my mom as a baby and toddler. Her first baby, the older brother, had been so quiet and compliant that she thought she had this parenting stuff figured out. Then my mom had come along and had a will of her own.

That little squirt made her so mad.

I remember my mom once telling me that when she was a teenager, she was so scared of her mom that she threw up every day.

But Grandpa would protect her. She was his favorite kid.

***

It was Bible study.  It was me and my sisters, mostly. The boys were too little to understand. She was explaining the Holy Spirit to us. She had, perhaps, run into some difficulty and was searching for a metaphor.

“The Holy Spirit is like an Alien.” she said finally. “It’s like, when you pray and ask Jesus to come into your heart, there’s this alien that comes down to live in your brain and control your body. After that, if you struggle against him and don’t let him control you, you’ll end up doing evil, ungodly things like you did before you were saved.”

It scared me so much.  I wanted so badly for her to stop talking- to stop saying this. I wasn’t able to make words come out.

I didn’t want an alien in my brain, controlling my body.

“But if you submit and let him control you, he’ll make you do good and be kind to people instead.”

She was completely serious.

***

“I wouldn’t run away.”

We were talking about the end of the world.  About people coming to kill you for your religion.

“I would just stand there- and let them shoot me!” she said.  She seemed exultant and a little blissful in her martyrdom.

I ran the pictures through my mind like a movie. In the movie, we were standing in the mouth of some cave, where we were hiding because we were Christians. Mom went out of the cave for no apparent reason, exultant and blissful, and was shot.

And I was left with a dead mother and five  younger children.

***

Papers were churning out of the printer.  They were churning out slowly, because of how old the printer was, but churning they were.

Mom collected them up, said goodbye, then was out the door.

Grandpa was dying.  He had fought prostate cancer for years and years now.

But this year he was dying.

Granny insisted on taking care of him herself, at home. She had been a nurse after all. She could tough out anything. She could do it.

The stress and grief and the weird things Grandpa would say on morphine seemed to be sending her into complete emotional and mental breakdown.

Mom was over there a lot.  Most of the time, it seemed like.  And when she was home, she was on the internet, looking up websites and printing off articles for Grandpa to read.

Their shared passion was the Apocalypse.  It always had been.  How God was going to destroy the earth and the human race- slowly- using meteors and plagues and starvation and Sci-Fi Demon-Locusts from the Pit of Hell- before destroying the universe and damning to an eternity of pain the vermin who had refused to love him enough.

I turned away as the car backed down the lane.  I was sitting with my baby sister, watching a fuzzy VHS video.

She was my mother’s eighth child.  She was two.  Everyone thought she was adorable. With Mom gone, she seemed to be alone all the time.

I was showing her the Ninja Turtles.  They lived in hiding, underground, taking care of each other and generally being awesome.  Their enemy was Shredder, of course, like my childhood crush had told me all those years ago.  But they had another enemy- Krang.

Krang was an alien brain, exiled from his own world.  Shredder had built a body and given it to him. Time and time again, the turtles kept Krang from taking over the world.

We snuggled together and watched the movie.  She loved it.

***

A few weeks ago I was at the store with Mom. We both had a few things to pick up. She was looking for something.

“Oh, where is it? This store is exactly like the one in Pontiac, but they put everything in different places.”

We found the office supply section. She stood in front of a wall of thick packages and contemplated.

“Copy paper is getting pretty dear” she said finally.

“Do we really need it, if it’s that expensive?” I asked. Dad, the family’s main provider, had a brush with cancer a couple years ago. Now his lymph nodes were swollen for no apparent reason.

“It’s more important to me that the kids can draw.” she told me and picked up a package.

“Do you ever draw any more?” I asked her.

“Oh, no. It’s been so long, I don’t even know if I still can.”

***

My little brother came to me.

“You know the Lego Bible, from the library?”

The seventh child. The older boys tend to leave him out.  He acts too young for his age- even according to homeschoolers.

He can solve math problems like its no one’s business.

“What about it?”

“Mom said it makes God look too mean.”

The Lego Bible was a big hit when it first came home.  Mom and the kids were admiring how exactly it’s photographs reproduced the Bible- in every detail- right down to Mary’s pregnant belly.  I couldn’t bear to look at it.

“How  so?”

“Well, like the story Jesus tells where the rich man makes a wedding for his son.  And then sends soldiers to kill people who wouldn’t come to the party.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. Jesus really did tell that story.”

“And Revelations.  It makes it look like God is killing people for no reason.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. God is so powerful, he could just blow the planet up and be done with it.  I don’t know why he does all that stuff in Revelations. But it does say he does it.”

His eyes flashed.  He thought he had a solution.

“But it was made by an atheist, after all!”

Well, it would be, wouldn’t it?  Not many theists seem to be able to picture the Bible as if it were really happening.

And even in such a simple way- using children’s toys as graven rubber stamps- who else would dare create photographic images of God?

 

 

Some reminiscing- mostly other people’s- about Hephzibah House

Actual Trigger Warning: Child Abuse

One of the eerie events of  my life in the past year has been reading about Hephzibah House.

My mom used to get the newsletter of Hephzibah House.  I don’t know what she thought of it.  I don’t know if she had mental reservations about it that she didn’t mention.

I say that as a disclaimer.  I don’t remember her talking about it, one way or another.

However, as a child, I was under the impression that,  if children were too problematic or too disobedient, they could be sent away to this place, which, even in the creepily cheerful newsletter, sounded terribly strict and unpleasant to me.

Or maybe ought to be sent away.

I also believed that this was a normal part of the right functioning of the universe.  This was a Christian institution, and the Christian part of the universe was the properly operating part.  The other segment of the universe was all broken and evil and unregenerate.

To explain further- I was a chicken.

I was the compliant child.  I hated conflict (?) and would try to perform well enough to make all of everyone’s problems go away.  My two sisters (close to me in age, and therefore peers instead of underlings like the younger set) sometimes called me a suck up.  I, in return spent a lot of time sitting in a corner, reading.

When I grew up and moved away, I started watching Ninja Turtles for the first time- and I identified a lot with Leo, if that explains anything.

Sending us to public school was a threat my mom sometimes pulled out to make us behave. Public school was where the bad kids were.  It was corrupt and Godless and they taught evolution.  It was a frightening threat.

‘Sending us to public school’ was also an aspect of the mini emotional breakdown Mom would have late every summer as she contemplated trying to homeschool us another year.  I can’t remember if I tried to calm her down during these times or if I just wished I could.

The thought of being sent to some home for troubled girls- the shame of having failed, at ? life? – having failed to my mom- being watched all the time and never being allowed to sit alone and read-  this was the worst possible scenario.

My response, whenever I wasn’t zoned out in my books or teaching my brothers kindergarten,  and the thought occurred to me, was something like this.

“The emperor is coming here? We’ll redouble our efforts!”

 

So this year, I’ve been reading about Hephzibah House from the other side.  Not the creepily cheery official explanation that Hephzibah House gave of itself.  The stories of girls who were actually sent there, lived through it, and have told their stories.

I had a pretty nice life, in many ways.  My parents weren’t abusive like some people’s were.

I was always chicken.  I was always scared.

But, as it turns out, that thing that scared me?  Actually was something to be afraid of.

 

I remember that we had to write home every week and if they didn’t like what we said we got our letter back till they liked it and all my mail coming in was blacked out if they didn’t want me to see what was said. I couldn’t tell my parents what was going on there, they made sure of it. Our 10-minute monthly phone calls were monitored and we would be in big trouble if we tried to say anything “wrong”….

The Williams were out of town of course and Miss Emory and Miss Saylor took me up there and when I asked why I was getting the “spanking” Miss Emory said, “Oh, just the general attitude.”
I was told to lay on the floor and they put the chairs over my head and feet and then Heather I believe is the one who was hitting me. I didn’t cry so I got more. I didn’t count but I know I was in pain and by this time I was very thin so that made it worse. I tried to go to the bathroom to see my bruises but Emory wouldn’t let me. I still have back problems to this day…
The state of Indiana investigated while I was a student at Hephzibah House, but we were hidden in a dark church while they came through. A few girls who were coached and intimidated were allowed to stay and speak to the investigators.
I was beaten with a paddle until I was black and blue. My skirt was pulled up, and I was laid out on the floor. One adult sat on my back and tightly held my arms, while another sat on my legs. A third beat me. I was beaten nearly every day for the first three to four months I was there. After that, I was sufficiently broken and docile, only receiving two to three per month. These beatings were so severe that they left blisters, hurt my back and twice I fainted. I still smell that carpet and feel it against my face.
That brings me to the “talking list”. When you first get there you are told that you are only allowed to talk to a handful of girls (the ones who have the privilege of talking to everyone). If you are not allowed to talk to a girl you are not allowed to look at her or remotely in her direction let alone have any contact with her. Now imagine living, eating, sleeping and working with 29 other girls and you can’t talk to or look at maybe 25 of them.
On my first or second day at Hephzibah House, I underwent my most traumatic experience there. I was taken into a closet/dressing room in the dorm area, and I was forced to undergo a very personal female physical examination. There was a man in the room, but he was never introduced to me, and it was never explained to me what he was going to do. I remember very vividly how scared I was just laying there hoping it would be over soon, as I gritted my teeth and dug my nails into the palms of my hands.
…we were only allowed to talk to another girl if we had staff permission, and if every word of the conversation took place within earshot of a staff member. We had very specific talking lists which outlined exactly who was allowed to talk to whom.
There were girls there who seriously went months without speaking to a single should excerpt for staff. That was one of the scariest things that I felt loomed over my head…having any speaking and socialization privileges taken away. I knew it had to be extremely lonely to live that way.
All of us girls, shadowed or not, had to be escorted to the bathroom. We were only allowed to use the bathroom at assigned bathroom times, and that was it. If I had to go at any time other than a regularly scheduled bathroom time, I just had to hold it. There were girls who could not hold it, and they were forced to wear depends or diapers.
The thing is, even unintentional wrongdoings, things normal people would not consider as some horrible crime, were treated as such. Girls were publicly humiliated and made to feel terrible for small things. I recall one girl was chewed out in front of us all for not marking, “how much ” diarrhea she had on the chart. (Yes, we were required to mark each day how we had gone to the bathroom,..this was a public chart and demerits would be giving for failing to mark it)….
I never saw a doctor or dentist while there, ( with the exception of a forced and unexplained vaginal exam performed in their closet room by a man who I assume was a doctor).
That is one of the biggest things that saddens me about this place, the fear and isolation and no way out. Also, the fact that it is all done under the name of Christianity. Basically, we were made to feel inadequate and inferior and just over all as, “bad girls” in general. We were not allowed to keep any type of journal, diary, or calendars while there. So I am sure there are things that are forgotten. However, they can’t erase some of the memories…
 Former staff tell these stories as well.
To Whom It May Concern: My name is Connie Staie White. I am the daughter of Pastor Byron Staie, Fundamental Independent Baptist. I am am also a former student of Ambassador Baptist College. Seventeen years ago, while attending ABC, I served a summer session at Hephzibah House in Indiana with Pastor Ron Williams . I was absolutely dumbfounded at what I discovered there. The day-to-day mode of operation within this facility reminded me very much of a what I would expect to find in a Nazi concentration camp. Never have I seen humiliation and psychological tactics so skillfully employed… 

If the staff decided that a girl had an ”attitude,” she would be punished by not being allowed to make eye contact with any other girl. If the girls had ”misbehaved,” they were signified by what they wore to church. This way, the church members knew that they had been ”bad.” Interestingly, I never once saw a single girl misbehave the entire time that I was there. Yet still, they were routinely punished. 
As you walked into the house, there was a huge bunch of eucalyptus hanging. Every time I smell eucalyptus I feel the oppression of feeling that nothing I did could ever be good enough. I spent a lot of time on that staircase because cleaning it was one of the chores of the work crew I was frequently assigned to.
Words cannot express what it felt like to be watched 24/7. Every word, deed, facial expression was critiqued. You never knew when something that you had done so many times before would suddenly not be good enough or be found offensive.
I had not been informed that I would have to eat and drink everything that was served to me. The first morning I was there we were served powdered milk for breakfast. It was really horrible and I did not finish it. My cup was brought back to me by Miss Saylor with the command to finish it…
All of the mail the girls received or sent was censored. Many of their letters were covered with black marker when they received them. These girls were desperate for outside contact. When they received it, it would be marked through. Very sad.
The girls were very sweet. A lot of them would write me notes to thank me for being there or for doing something special for them. I was told to give these notes to the Williams’ before leaving HH. I didn’t. They are in my scrapbook. Those letters were written to me and I did not think anyone had the right to take them from me.
You can see more survivor’s stories here-

http://hephzibah-girls.blogspot.com/

http://formerhephzibahgirls.webs.com/

It is possible that, in recent years, since these stories began to be made public, the ‘spankings’ have been phased out of Hephzibah House’s standard operating procedures.   However, until there was a public outcry, it seems that they did in fact use this practice.

And if they have stopped the physical beatings, that is no guarantee that the psychological abuse has ended.

Hephzibah house has also been addressed by the group Under Much Grace

As previously discussed in several posts, survivors of Hephzibah House suffered many different varieties of abject abuse and torture, and their environment was highly sexually charged. Girls report that Ron Williams behaved inappropriately with them, seeming to flirt with them at times, all while he objectified (treating them as little more than objects because they were women and were viewed as impure as well). Many were sent to Hephzibah House because they had been sexually assaulted, and parents neither knew how to cope with these situations nor had resources to minister to their children. They had no idea that they were sending their children into a highly sexualized environment.

http://undermuchgrace.blogspot.com/2012/01/compulsion-to-reenact-trauma-as.html

At Hephzibah House, the resident girls as well as the staff there learned quickly that they had no ability to protect or provide for themselves. The level of optimism and trust placed in the girls did not exist. They were treated like human garbage and were told directly that they were of limited worth and usefulness in life because of whatever qualified them to be residents there. They could not even decide how much toilet paper to take from the roll, because they had to request it before they entered the bathroom so it could be allotted to them. They could do nothing to escape their conditions or ease their suffering. The beatings would eventually come, regardless of their behavior. Some perceived attitude or illness would eventually interfere with their good standing or status. There was no escape.

Much has been written regarding the role of learned helplessness in child abuse. For the survivors of Hephzibah House or those who wish to understand why the effects of residency there was so life-altering for the girls who survived the experience, learned helplessness most definitely plays a role.

Some of the claims that Lucinda has made speak of the typical compulsion to repeat trauma (another ineffective coping mechanism) as evidenced by sensational sounding accounts of revictimization after leaving HH, and even claims that her church paddled her before the congregation at age 19 or 20 (the age varies between accounts).   She also describes an unusually aggressive spanking sessionwhile at HH wherein she’s confined in a prone position on the floor, held by two people with a third person who paddled her, a chair on top of her back, and with some suggestion that a fourth party may have been required to sit on the chair to restrain her for what she insists were only for three mild swats. She describes the event as though it was a reasonable experience that was not out of the ordinary, all told in an inappropriately flat affect which one could interpret as highly suggestive of dissociation, or at the very least, a lack of reasonable and appropriate perspective.

…please consider that  those who encourage and support Lucinda in her advocacy of Ron Williams and Hephzibah House only help to enable and deepen her trauma.
To those who cite Lucinda as evidence in support of Ron Williams, have you considered that you might be making sport of one of his most unfortunate victims and only reinforce the harm done to her by adding to the millstone of trauma that she already bears?

http://undermuchgrace.blogspot.com/2012/01/effects-of-trauma-and-abuse-at.html

Some of the absolutely atrocious exegesis/teaching of Ron Williams, the current director of Hephzibah House is examined here. This teaching is presumably  what allows him to do what he does.

In this sermon, Ron Williams states incorrectly  that,  Rachel is Dinah’s mother.  In fact, Dinah’s mother was Leah. In his message on Dinah from the Old Testament, which Ron Williams teaches that the Bible says, Dinah was responsible for her own rape! The Bible does not teach this…

In his sermon “How to Raise a Strange Woman” by Ron Williams, he states that Dinah (who he imagines is a young teen between 14 and 15) is a “strange woman.”  Not only that Williams preaches that Rachel was a strange woman as well who taught Dinah to be one.  Nowhere is this taught in the Bible. The term “strange woman,” that Ron Williams used is taken completely out of context here. 

http://chucklestravels.com/2011/08/05/the-horrors-of-hephzibah-house/

How is all this possible?

 “Presently, institutions such as Hephzibah House are not under any type of governmental regulation and have no accountability for their actions. They are virtually free to do as they wish as long as they can spin a convincing tale to parents and church supporters.”

http://hephzibah-girls.blogspot.com/search/label/Responses%20to%20the%20Outcry

Recently, my younger sister mentioned to me that she had been frightened  by an episode of the Muppets Show.  Earlier this week, I happened to see the episode.  It was the Halloween special.  Kermit interviews some cooks and a monster, who happens to be eating everything and everyone on stage.  Kermit cheerfully continues the interview, oblivious to the Muppets being eating, right up until the monster eats him.

I had to agree with her.  That was scary.

It’s scary when hideous things are treated as normal and unremarkable.

 

 

 

Do Stacy McDonald and Kelly Crawford Pass the Duck Test on Patriarchy?

Homeschoolers Anonymous

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 4.39.12 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on May 8, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

*****

Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says ‘duck’. But the bird certainly looks like a duck. Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he’s wearing a label or not.

~Richard Cunningham Patterson Jr., United States ambassador to Guatemala during the Cold War in 1950

 *****

Are you familiar with the Duck Test?  It’s an inductive reasoning test.  This familiar expression is an example of inductive reasoning:

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and…

View original post 1,481 more words

Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum

Cradle of Civilization

The Armenian Genocide 1915-1923

100th Anniversary of Armenian Genocide to be Commemorated on Diocesan Level

The Plan 

The German Vice Consul at Erzerum, Count Max Erwin von Scheubner- Richter, summarizes the Armenian Genocide quite succintly in a report to his superiors:

“I have conducted a series of conversations with competent and influential Turkish personages, and these are my impressions: A large segment of the Ittahadist [Young Turk] party maintains the viewpoint that the Turkish empire should be based only on the principle of Islam and Pan-Turkism. Its non-Muslim and non-Turkish inhabitants should either be forcibly islamized, or otherwise they ought to be destroyed.

These gentlemen believe that the time is propitious for the realization of this plan. The first item on this agenda concerns the liquidation of the Armenians. Ittihad will dangle before the eyes of the allies the specter of an alleged revolution prepared by the Armenian Dashnak party. Moreover local incidents of social unrest and acts of Armenian…

View original post 571 more words

You do WHAT in your Bible? Part III- How the Bible is Done

III. What is the “Teaching of the Bible” with regard to sexual ethics? 

Ok.   We have, in previous posts, discussed Section I and II in Jack Crabtree’s lengthy handout.

The handout can be found here, along with a link to audio recordings of his lectures.

http://blog.gutenberg.edu/2014/the-ethics-of-sex-in-the-teaching-of-the-bible/

In Section I, Jack explained to us that Moderns won’t think his view of sexuality is cool.   He also displayed, I thought, a marked lack of familiarity with the Modern Mindset.  And he attributed an attitude he does not approve of (a ban on interracial marriage), which is clearly expressed in a text he considers authoritative (Ezra), to a source other than the authoritative text (Book of Tobit/ first century Judaism- which I don’t think are actually even the same thing).  Implying that said ban was a deviation from, rather than a feature of, Biblical Sexual Ethics.

Which it actually is.

Making his maneuver fairly dishonest.

Uncool.

And he explains what kind of person his view of sexuality will appeal to and says they should all form a cult together.  Sorry- ‘underculture’.  Which no one will ever, ever, ever join just because they want to be part of a club.  No siree.

In Section II, Mr. Crabtree explained about the Bible being an authority for Jesus Followers.  The closest he got to telling us what a Jesus follower is that they are people who consider the Bible the highest authority (so, presumably all non-Protestants are out). Except in the case of Science.  Science, it appears, has authority alongside the Bible.

Let’s hope they never conflict, right?

Anyway, Section IV is going to be really interesting, because that’s where he starts talking about sex.  In the meantime, in Section III, Mr. Crabtree explains how he derives his view of the sexuality from the Bible-  his method, in other words.  And that’s pretty interesting too.

A. To understand what the Bible “teaches” on sexual ethics, one must understand the entire biblical worldview and the ramifications of that worldview for sexual ethics.

If my memory serves (which it may not), in the Middle Ages, the people of Europe had the idea that the collapsed Greco-Roman civilization previous to them was more learned than they were, and that the beliefs of the Greco-Romans were pretty nearly true.  They therefore took all of the remnants and fragments of Greco-Roman literature that they still had, derived from them the entire Greco-Roman worldview, then spent a lot of time philosophizing about the Greco-Roman worldview’s ramifications.

The trouble turns out to be that, while the Greco Roman civilization had built up a higher concentration of learnedness than the  Medieval Europeans, they also had, in their learnedness, many different theories about how the universe worked- some of which were mutually exclusive.

The Medieval Europeans had created a theory of the world in which all of the fragments they had access too appeared as compatible parts of a coherent system- even the bits which had, once upon a time, been diametrically opposed.  This marvel of interpretive ingenuity (the product, if not the process) is described in CS Lewis’ book The Discarded Image.  It is probably my favorite book by that author, and is highly readably.

It was later discovered was that this synthetic monster did not match either reality or really even the views of the Greco Romans- a fact which allowed ‘Enlightenment’ thinkers to refer to the Middle Ages as ‘The Dark Age’ and preen themselves on being smarter than people who were essentially trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, but with Huns.

In the later portion of the Christian Bible, Jesus (ethical teacher extraordinaire  and deity of the Christian religion) claims that The Law and the Prophets (the then existent portion of the Christian Bible- sometimes referred to as the Jewish Bible) can be summed up in the phrase “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12) (Rabbi Hillel said more or less the same thing, shortly before Jesus’ time)

In the Law and the Prophets, at one point God is said to have commanded his followers to kill all the men in certain cities and treat the women and children as plunder to be used- and in certain other cities to simply kill everything- old or young, animal or human (Deuteronomy 20:10-18).  These cities are said to have sinned such that they deserved to be massacred and have their land given away as a present to some other group.

The trouble, for me, is the children.

They cannot in any meaningful sense have participated in whatever crimes those cities committed.

If I were guilty of some crime that deserved death, I would not want my innocent children to be executed along with me.   If I were guilty of some crime and my children were innocent, I would certainly not want them to be treated as plunder by an army that is authorized to use prisoners as slave-wives (Deut 21:10-14).

God- said to be the source of the moral order of the universe- ordered his followers to treat others in a way that no one wants to be treated.

The Law and the Prophets cannot be summed up the way Jesus says they can.

Unless, of course, the Law and the Prophets are secretly a polemic against God, but they say that they aren’t and I’m not doing conspiracy theories in this post.

The Christian Bible seem to me to be written from at least two different ethical worldviews, diametrically opposed to each other. Possibly more. Mr.  Crabtree clearly believes that the Bible is learned and (with the exception of Ezra?) more or less true.  What Mr. Crabtree has not told us is why he thinks it is permissible to derive from the Bible a single ‘entire’ worldview.

1. I will not know what the Bible “teaches” simply by discovering what I take to be a decisive verse. I know what the Bible teaches only when I understand the entire, coherent worldview of the Bible

If we had some reason to believe that the Bible presents a single coherent worldview, this, I suppose, would be fair enough.  Only the sum of the whole can explain the parts, and so forth.

So, all we have to do is come up with The Correct View of Life, the Universe and Everything from a book that has spawned two thousand years worth of arguments, heresies, failed theologies, and multiple contradictory ‘successful’ theologies.  We can then derive our sexual ethics from that!

Sounds easy, right?

Furthermore, one finds out what the sum of the parts is by examining the parts and adding them together.   If Mr. Crabtree is taking this Sexual Ethics thing seriously, I would expect at least to hear a list of relevant passages, what each one is talking about, and then hear how the whole can be derived from them.  It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Furthermore, once you have found out the sum of the whole (the total worldview  that has created and informed all of the  particular passages) you could at least expect that all of the relevant verses would be explicable in terms of that total worldview.  There wouldn’t be any individual verse that CONTRADICTED the total world view, right? Because then the theory you had derived from them would be proved incorrect.

None of this has to be a problem.

However.

Given the fact that Mr. Crabtree essentially discarded a Biblical passage (Ezra) that expresses an attitude he condemns, then blame shifted, accusing another group in a different era of history of producing the idea.

And is now distancing himself from “decisive verses”.

I have a bad feeling about this.

2. To make moral judgments consistent with what the Bible teaches, my moral judgments with regard to sexual behavior must be made on the basis of the theory of human sexuality that is taught in and/or assumed by what the Bible asserts.

At first blush I thought he was just repeating what he had said in the first two points,  but he is emphasizing here that one’s specific moral judgments come from the theory, not from applying specific verses directly to specific situations.  There is an intermediary. That intermediary, the theory, is the thing we operate from.

I like to work from an understanding of things, not a list of rules, so I guess I’m down with that.  If it could be proved that the Bible has a single consistent theory of ethics, that is.

But it hasn’t.

And there is the Book of Tobit/Ezra still hanging over our heads.

I have a bad feeling about this.

a) The Bible teaches more on sexuality than what can be found in the explicit assertions of individual verses.

Oh god.  He’s not just going to discard passages that say things he doesn’t like.  He’s going to “find” things that it doesn’t say.

Why cloud your own opinion with a bunch of textual references, Mr. Crabtree?

(1) I cannot find a “verse” that teaches that adult-child sex is a sin. Yet, in the context of a biblical theory of sexuality and sexual ethics, adult-child sex would clearly be considered evil from the perspective of the Bible, even though there is no “verse” that says so.

Well.  The Bible also doesn’t have a verse (that I recall) that says when childhood ends.

Our legal definition of adulthood is 18 years old.  The physical and hormonal changes that begin in children during puberty, between 8-12 years old, don’t really level off before then. Also, before that age, young people have too little experience of the world and themselves. They haven’t had the experience necessary to learn what physical desire means and doesn’t mean, what emotional and romantic attachment is and they don’t have the life experience to know a good person from a seducer. They have no defenses.

Thus, we treat adult/child sexual contact as a crime.  Because, even if it’s consensual, one of the involved parties isn’t yet developed enough to give informed consent.

Do you like charts?  Here’s an overview of human development.

http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/for-professionals/lesson-plans-professionals/201?task=view

The Jewish coming-of-age ritual takes place at about age 13.  I don’t believe they currently use this as a legal age of adulthood.

Consider this.

In the the list of unlawful sexual relations given in Leviticus 18, the unlawful relations are given in terms of social roles, familial relationships and rituals.  

Don’t sleep with your father’s wife (assumption of polygamy/concubinage), don’t sleep with your half-sister, don’t sleep with the children of your children (assuming that your children are old enough to have children and are still called children suggests to me that the grandchildren here referred to as children are not necessarily young. it means they have that role in relation to you- no matter what their age). Don’t sleep with a woman during her period. Etc.

In 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34  we learn that Josiah was eight years old when he became king in Jerusalem.

In 2 Kings 11 and 2 Chronicles 22, Joash was seven.

Why? There is no possible way that either one could have been ready to govern a nation.

Despite the fact that they were otherwise and in every other way too young, these two children were made kings because social roles, familial relationships and ritual demanded it. 

God spent practically the entire Book of Exodus instructing the Jews in detail about what kind of tassels he wanted them to put on the curtains of the Tabernacle.

And yet, he didn’t bother to address adult/child sexual relationships even once.

Why aren’t there any verses that address adult/child sexual relationships?

Interesting fact.

Most sermons I’ve ever heard on the subject hypothesize that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was about 14 when the whole pregnancy incident happened, due to this being “the right age” for her to be engaged to Joseph.

http://christianity.about.com/od/newtestamentpeople/p/marymotherjesus.htm

http://www.ask.com/question/how-old-was-mary-when-she-gave-birth-to-jesus

http://www.truthortradition.com/articles/mary-a-teenage-bride-and-mother

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15464b.htm

So, according to our standards of informed consent (potentially applicable to the free existential choice Mr. Crabtree is so fond of), Mary was to young to agree to sexual activity with another human, let alone consent to bear and give birth to the Son of God.

God is a pedophile.

(2) There is no “verse” that tells me it is perverse to have an erotic attachment to my automobile. That does not mean that the Bible would consider it morally acceptable.

Uh.  Actually, there is.  Given that there is no human female or animal involved, I’m guessing this would probably fall under the category of nocturnal emissions- Deuteronomy 23:9-11, Leviticus 15:16-17.  Ejaculating right out into nothing and not into a vagina/womb.  It’s not forbidden, but you aren’t allowed to participate in any ritual activities the next day.

The thing that’s weird about this fetish (and at some point in the hazy days and sleepless nights I looked this up, but I’m not going to again for a link) (DO IT YOURSELF) is not the fact that some guys do themselves on their cars, but that they describe it in romantic terms.  For that I’d say, maybe too much Thomas the Tank Engine as children?

But nowhere in all the rules did I noticed the Bible mentioning anything about romantic attachments- one way or the other.  The closest thing I can think of is  the story of Jacob and Rachel, Genesis 29. The romantic attachment in that story was more or less incidental to the dynamics of marriage  and the story itself except to explain why Laban could charge such a high price for his daughter and get away with so many shenanigans.

Oh gosh.  David and Michal! 1 Samuel 18. Same deal, although there’s are a lot more being dealt with in this passage than just marriage.  The romantic attachment is there to explain why Saul can make his prospective son-in-law David risk his life collecting so many… Philistine… foreskins… Presumably, as a willing sexual partner, Michal is more desirable and therefore Saul can make David pay for her as part of his scheme to get David killed.

And then there’s the Song of Solomon. The great erotic poem of the Bible, written by David’s son Solomon. Solomon, of the 700 wives and 300 concubines.  Solomon who collected women like some men collect. Well. Cars.

No one ever said that Rachel was in love with Jacob.  Given that her opinion didn’t count, how exactly was this different from doing a car that you have a crush on?

(3) If it were the case that no “verse” tells me it is wrong for “marriage” to occur between two human beings of the same sex, would that fact entail that the Bible would consider same-sex marriage morally unobjectionable? The answer is “no.”

He’s saying, again, that you can derive from the theory things that aren’t explicitly stated.

Sort of like how you can derive from Jesus saying ‘treat others the way you wish to be treated’ the theory that you shouldn’t commit genocide.  Then, even though God never commanded anyone NOT to commit genocide,  you can know that he would never ever ever command anyone to do something so utterly morally reprehensible!

Oh shoot!  That’s just what I wanted God to be like!

b) What the Bible asserts in individual verses must be understood in the light of
the Bible’s theory of marriage and sexuality, and in the light of its entire
worldview.

You can beat a dead horse to water but you can’t make it have a single consistent theory of sexuality and marriage.

Don’t look a gift horse in the Ethics. It might be as old as the Bronze Age.

He’s saying what I said about the parts having to be explicable by the whole- the  worldview/theory you construct from them. Except he’s leaving out the part where they also have to not contradict the whole or the whole is invalid.

We’ll see why in a minute.

(1) “Love your neighbor” clearly cannot be construed to mean “have sex
with your neighbor” (as the followers of Moses David taught).

Wow.  Something we agree on. Yes, that is an obviously stupid reading of that passage.

I have no idea who Moses David was or what his followers taught.  I don’t care. I’ll assume he was some hippy Mr. Crabtree knew back in his longhair days.  Moving on.

(2) To construe the handful of relevant verses as suggesting that Jesus
taught that divorce is NEVER morally permissible is to ignore several
facets about the biblical worldview.

Remember back in A.1) when I said that you could derive a theory from a set of facts/verses, and use them as an interpretive framework, but none of the facts/verses could contradict the theory, or the theory would be wrong?

And then in A. 2) b) he said more or less the same thing, but left out the part about how, if facts/ verses contradicted the theory, the theory was wrong?

The ‘handful of relevant verses’ constitute EVERY SINGLE TIME Jesus gave instructions about divorce.

Matthew 5:30-32

Matthew 19:1-11

Mark 10:1-12

Luke 16:18

“To construe... said verses… as suggesting Jesus taught divorce is never morally permissible…” is putting rather a fine point on it.

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matt 5:32

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. Matt 19:9

He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” Mark 10:11-12

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  Luke 16:18

Jesus explicitly stated, every time he addressed the issue, that divorce is never morally permissible except in the case of adultery.

What grounds does Mr. Crabtree have for saying that we misconstrue Jesus when we say Jesus believed what Jesus explicitly stated he believed?

Deuteronomy 24:1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

Divorce was a normal transaction in the Old Testament.  There were certain restrictions on it, but they were nowhere as severe as Jesus’.

The ‘indecent something’ the man discovers about the woman?

Leviticus 20:10 “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.

It wasn’t adultery.

Its as if Jesus and the writers of the Tanakh were working from two completely different views on the matter. They absolutely contradict one another.

Interestingly enough, Jesus himself knew of and dealt with this discrepancy.

Mark 10: 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

Moses permitted this in cases other than divorce.  And yet Jesus has said that he agrees with the Law of Moses- Matt 5:17-20. What’s a Jesus to do?

Mark 10:5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Jesus explains that there IS a single coherent ethic that informs both his teaching on divorce AND the Old Testament’s teaching.  However, he says, the Jews back in the day weren’t ready to drink God’s ethic straight. So God watered it down for them and allowed them to divorce for reasons other than adultery.

Divorce for reasons other than adultery- the Moses’ law- is a corruption of God’s ethic.

But according to Mr. Crabtree, Jesus cannot possibly mean what he said, because the Tanakh and the theory Mr. Crabtree has constructed, must be taken into consideration as well. Jesus’ teaching must be explained in their light.

Mr. Crabtree agrees with Jesus in saying that Jesus’ teaching  and the Tanakh’s are two parts of a single self contained systems of ethics.  Like Jesus, he MUST say that one of the two doesn’t really mean what they are saying.

And, of the two, he chose to discard Jesus.

Given the depth of incompatibility some couples display and the unnecessary suffering that divorce can prevent, I can’t say that choice is wrong.

Given his statements about the Bible and being a Jesus Follower, in his own system, he totally is.

(3) Some seek to defend the legality of “gay marriage” on the grounds that
to deny the legal possibility of marriage to gay people is to violate the
Bible’s supreme ethical principle—love for our neighbor. This argument
disregards several facets of the biblical worldview.

And now he’s accusing other people of discarding things. Oh Joy. The Ocean.

The supreme ethical principle- love for our neighbor- when stated in full is, love your neighbor as you love yourself.

It was stated by Jesus (Mark 12, Luke 10 among others), his disciples (Paul- Romans 13- and James- James 2- come to mind) and some of the Old Testament writers(Leviticus 19:18) Given that they  were also all gung-ho about killing the neighboring Canaanite tribes, possibly they meant it to be limited to the Jews.  With the more cosmopolitan streams of Judaism it was applied to all humanity, as it was in the more cosmopolitan strains of Christianity as well.  Jesus gave an example of it with his parable of the good Samaritan.

Luke 10:25-37

The parable implies that ‘your neighbor’ is anyone, of any race, even if they are of a different religion, even if their religion is a  corrupt version of your religion and they leave out all the things you have labeled as purity, truth and relationship to God.

It is the reason I feel bad about treating Mr. Crabtree’s lecture with such sarcasm.

It can also be restated in a form we have previously touched on- “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  And it is fairly easy to see how the same dynamic informs both renderings.

Pretend you are that other person. Thus, their life and experience of life are just as valuable as your own.  And then, just as you don’t like it when people do stuff that harms you, don’t do stuff that harms them. Just as you like it when people do stuff that helps you, do stuff that helps other people.

How does this apply to the controversy of gay marriage?

Well- what does Mr. Crabtree want for himself?  He’s already told us.

A subculture utilizes social and cultural pressure to effect conformity. The
follower of Jesus does so out of free, existential obedience. The Bible never
advocates cultural conformity for its own sake, where no free, existential
choice is involved.

He wants to make his own choices- freely and out of the core of his existence.  He wants to be able to follow his chosen religion and (presumably) its sexual ethics, not because society or his culture has forced him to.  Perhaps by – and who’s ever heard of such a ridiculous thing!- making the normal manifestations and sexual practices of his chosen religion illegal.

But  apparently this is too drastic for him to grant anyone else.

His life matters.  Other people’s don’t.  According to him.

(a) This argument assumes that relationship is the supreme principle in
life, as well as in sexuality. Truth, moral purity, one’s relationship to
God, and, hence, sexual purity—these must never be allowed to take
precedence over authentic, loving relationship (as a modern would
define love).

Uh.  No, it doesn’t.  It assumes that truth, moral purity,  and relationship to God are matters of intense and prolonged debate, and that people should be allowed to make up their own minds about said matters and then pursue those without having to superficially conform to the  opinions of others.

Assuming that sex is more important than truth, moral purity and God sounds like something a hippy would say.  Except I suspect that a hippy would say that sex WAS truth, moral purity and God.  So maybe is sounds like the thing a person who didn’t like hippies would say that a hippy said.

Or maybe we shouldn’t pull opinions out of our asses and randomly assign them to people. As Mr. Crabtree has done here.

(b) Does love for my neighbor require that I want my neighbor to have
and do whatever he wants to have and do? Clearly not.

What the hell.  Why doesn’t it?

I’ll assume (randomly)(out of my ass) that the argument here continues; but what if my neighbor wants to have and do things that hurt me?

Like- blowing themselves up in a crowded mall so they can die a martyr and be sure of getting into heaven? Or- making illegal all expressions of sexuality other than their own because God said butt-sex is icky? Or massacring entire nation/races because God said he likes you better and you get to have all their stuff now?

What if what one person wants involves another person, but the other person doesn’t want it?

Well. This is why, to limit the limitless freedom that ‘loving your neighbor as you love yourself’ bestows upon us all, and to resolve the conflict between having not One, but Many persons (aka moral agents) in existence, we have introduced the concept of consent.

Informed Consent, no less.

One  person can only do what they want to another person if the other person understands and wants it as well.

That is my answer.  I don’t know if that was actually Mr. Crabtree’s question, since the matter was so ‘clear’ to him that he didn’t give it a bullet point of its own.

(i) However, that is exactly what we unthinkingly assume in the
context of debates like “gay marriage.”

Actually, some of us don’t assume it but come to this conclusion by reasonable processes that you are ignoring.

(c) The above argument “begs the question.” It assumes the very point
at issue: that there is nothing morally objectionable about
homosexuality as such.

No, it doesn’t.  It assumes that different persons come to different understandings of what morality is.  It also assumes that while everyone thinks that they’re right and wants to do what they think is right, no one has agreed on the details since pretty much the beginning of time.

(d) To love my neighbor is to promote my neighbor’s well-being. Don’t
I have to know what is truly good for my neighbor in order to love
him? Isn’t the entire scope of the Bible’s teaching relevant to
answering that question?

And here I thought that conservatives don’t like the welfare-nanny state.

To love my neighbor is to promote my neighbor’s well-being.

I don’t know.  But to love your neighbor as you love yourself is to allow them to tell you what their well being looks like to them, and respect that.

No one ever said you could just love your neighbor.

To simply assume that you know what’s good for them and they don’t, especially when one has displayed as impressive an ignorance of your neighbor as Mr. Crabtree has in this lecture, is to infantilize everyone but yourself and to anoint yourself the Supreme Nanny of the Whole World.

Except even your views grow and change, so you’re not qualified.

Don’t I have to know what is truly good for my neighbor in order to love
him? 

No.

Having done your research, knowing what their various choices they face, familiarizing yourself with the processes by which they make decisions, their history, motivations, hopes, fears, etc, make you a better resource for them as they make their decisions.  That is perhaps more loving than just letting them rot in your corner while you rot in yours.

But no.  You don’t have to know.

Isn’t the entire scope of the Bible’s teaching relevant to answering that question?

uh… in the general sense that, isn’t the history of everything  ultimately related to every question? sure it is.

But to be particularly and specifically relevant, we would have to have proven that the Bible had a single ethic that informed its entire scope.

And we haven’t.

And, in fact, what we have seen has indicated quite the opposite.

Once upon a time, the Bible was considered a guide for Astronomy.  The relevant verses and the theory derived from them were studied in detail.  They caused much consternation when a man named Galileo began to popularize a theory that went against the theory that had been derived from the Bible- and in fact explained the observable data better than Biblical  Astronomy did.

Today, Mr. Crabtree claimed the Bible is relevant to ‘theology,
philosophy, and spirituality’ but had to leave Science, Technology, Engineering, and  Mathematics to wander on their lonesome. He left out Astronomy as well.

From what I have seen of Mr. Crabtree’s arguments, I’m beginning to wonder if the Bible is eventually going to bow out of the discussion of Ethics.

After all, the Bible’s claim to fame is it’s Divine inspiration.  But the Divinity, God, the Bible tells us, is perfect and eternal- the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

And the Bible both contradicts itself and shows signs of having developed.

So ends Section III

 

In the next section, Section IV,  Mr. Crabtree talks about viscerally repulsive sexual practices. In detail.  For pages and pages and pages.

Tune in Next Week!

 

 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions concerning Sex in the Bible

I am about halfway through Mr. Crabtree’s notes for The Ethics of Sex in The Bible, Section III. So that  post will probably come out in the next few days.

In the meantime, a commenter had some questions- there were a lot of them, and I did not feel I could do them justice just in a reply.  Also,  I felt that some of his questions related to format- so I thought I might as well clarify that before going on.

His comment can be found at the end of this post- if I were more technologically ept I would link straight to it, but I’m actually lucky to have figured out the link thing at all.

You do WHAT in your Bible? How viscerally repulsive! Part II.

He begins:

I must say, I am confused by your approach.

I’m confused by the fact that I’m having to deal with this lecture.  At least we’re confused together.

The handout you are critiquing is not a transcription of Jack’s talk, it is an OUTLINE. And you are critiquing it without having even listened to Jack explain his argument?

Oh god.  I really am so sorry about that.  However this subject is very emotional for me. If you think my treatment of the outline is bad, I don’t think you would approve of me trying to do the livestreaming. The reason I’m critiquing the “OUTLINE” is because the written format is easier for me to deal with in a semi-rational manner.

This is as uncharitable and intellectually illegitimate as ‘tearing apart’ the argument of a book having read only the table of contents. 

But I don’t claim to be criticizing anything but the table of contents.

If anyone wants to read the book (aka the audio recording), it’s sitting there waiting for them.  I believe I’ve linked to the Gutenberg Website at least a couple times in all this.

Here it is again.

http://blog.gutenberg.edu/2014/the-ethics-of-sex-in-the-teaching-of-the-bible/

Sure, the handout was ‘public’. It was posted online so that people watching the lectures could follow the outline (I’m sure you are familiar with Jack’s lectures, and that he generally hands out an outline for the benefit of the listeners). A table of contents is also ‘public’.

We also don’t read Aristotle because all we have are his lecture notes!

I am not surprised that you are so confused about Jack’s references to Tobit, etc…

If you, with your auditorily wired brain, can explain to me how it is ethical to describe a ban on interracial marriage clearly found in a portion of the Bible ‘shared’ by Christianity and Judaism as a “Taliban”-like feature of first century Judaism, thus pushing the Christian and Jewish shared heritage of apparent racism off onto just the Jews- please, feel free.

I’m actually not kidding here.  It would make me a lot calmer to hear a convincing explanation of why I’m wrong.  This freaks the hell out of me.

He does define his terms… in the lectures.

Mm. In the outline, which appears to be presenting the structure of his argument, so that, as you pointed out, the audience of his lectures can follow his arguments more easily, he devotes THE ENTIRE first section to defining in detail, the types of people who will and won’t be attracted to his views.

He spends several bullet points in that section explaining the different definitions of ‘subculture’ and ‘underculture’.

The term I was most disturbed by his not-defining-of was “Biblical Sexual Ethics”.  The topic of the lecture.

It not even just that he didn’t put the definition in his handout.  It’s that there’s no place for him to say that definition in the flow of his argument as it now stands.

Why is it important to define the people who disagree with you as conformist moderns and the people who agree with you as courageous Jesus followers, in detail, at the beginning of your argument… but not define the subject?

And if he doesn’t define a specific term that you are confused about, there is a format for asking questions during the lecture.

Please see what I said above about myself, the written format, and rationality.

The real question is, if answers are so readily available (through online streaming) why aren’t you looking for them? 

Those I have spoken to who DID listen to the livestream and who DID ask questions were referred to ‘a sermon I’m going to do at Reformation next month’ that would answer all their questions.

That only has the value of hearsay, and if I were able to process the livestream format in a mentally intelligible  fashion, I would tell you whether it were true or not first hand.

That inability to process IS a failing on my part, but I didn’t make my brain.  If you have a problem with it, file a complaint with the Almighty.

Are you really interested in dialogue? Or are you trying to do something else?

Ah- 1) No, 2) Yes?

This is a blog, not Academia. If you look over my other posts, you’ll find they mostly involve how I feel about my mother and  how  I hate God  for being such a meanie weanie.  In this particular series of posts, I am processing my personal thoughts and emotions about Jack’s series.

I thought that was obvious.  If it wasn’t, I apologize.  I’m not sure if more or less sarcasm will make it clearer.

I’m not saying I will never be interested in dialogue. But if I ever write an actual rebuttal, it will be very dry, scholarly, and will have pages and pages of footnotes.  At that point I will also have calmed myself down enough to watch the recordings as well.

I can send it to you to critique first before sending it to Jack, if you like. 🙂

I am NOT saying this to invalidate your perspectives on the Bible or Biblical sexual ethics. From what I have read I am pretty sure we disagree on many things, but I am interested in hearing more of your perspective and understanding where you are coming from.

Well, thanks.  When I can stop seeing red, I may feel the same way about you.

That being said, I expect a certain standard of intellectual and discursive integrity from Gutenberg alumni. 

If this were a discourse, I believe I would be crushed by that remark.  Good thing it’s actually sort of my online diary that you decided to expose yourself too by reading, eh?

That being said, this lecture on Sex Ethics ended up being one of the things I cry about in my online diary because I expected a certain amount of intellectual and  discursive integrity from a Gutenberg Tutor.

It seems to me that in choosing to respond to Jack’s outline without bothering to listen to the lectures you have either carelessly or willfully set up a straw man and pinned Jack’s name to it.

If you chose to see what I’ve written as a formal response, then find you feel bothered by its informality, that is your decision.

Next, you seem to be saying that Jack is such a poor writer that his outline of his own argument constitutes a misrepresentation of said argument.  I at least think better of him than that. But- if you are right and Jack’s outline can’t be trusted to represent his argument- well- then-if Jack wishes to write caricatures of his own arguments and post them online with his name attached, that is his decision.

Finally, Noah, this is your uncle, and I do not expect you to be excited about the fact that I am criticising him, publicly, for all the world to see.  And Jack is a pleasant person who loves his children and family and has hopes and fears and the whole ball of string.

But so am I.

And I hardly expected my teacher to call me animalistic, morally disgusting, viscerally repulsive, an abomination, and to create special category of sinner for me along with pedophiles, sadists, and sociopaths (Section IV E)-

Publically, for all the world to see.

My family agrees with him, you know.

I do not believe I have earned this from him.